As a leader, it’s not every day you’re faced with failure. Let’s be honest; if you were, you wouldn’t be leading for long.
But what separates good leaders from great ones are moments when introspection meets action. Of course, it’s not always easy to look inward, to examine a fault or shortcoming, and it’s that much harder to act on. But as someone with a growth mindset, I’m generally intrigued by something that challenges me in this way.
So when I found myself utterly stumped by a seemingly simple question posed by an up-and-coming Black VMware executive — it raised some serious questions in my mind. The event was an exec-focused, Black@VMware POD event, where the goal was to network, connect and provide career path insights. During a “speed networking” event, a colleague asked me, “What advice would you give to upcoming Black executives as they work to grow their impact and careers at VMware?”
While this is a simple question, I found that it was not an easy one to answer. Especially once I realized that I didn’t fully appreciate the underlying issues implicitly stated in this “simple” question. I was taken aback because I knew what advice I would give to executives in general but couldn’t think of advice specific for Black execs. In the end, I gave the advice I would give anyone in that situation — but that was an allyship failure on my part.
First and foremost, what surfaced for me was the realization that privilege has prevented me from seeing that others’ experiences will likely be quite different from my own. While my own career has not been without its challenges, those from different backgrounds may not have found themselves with the same career opportunities I experienced coming up. It’s clear that further understanding will go a long way here. It also showed me that I still need to spend more time with Black leaders at VMware and beyond. While I’ve done a fair bit of self-education on being a better ally, experiences like this show me that there’s more room for growth. And knowing there’s a deficit is a good place to start.
Being a leader and an ally means not just showing up with passive support. Doing the work requires using clout to give space for others’ voices, ideas, and opinions. It means speaking up when biased language, opinions, or decisions are made—and putting structures in place to promote equity and fight injustice. And certainly, holding yourself and others accountable. It’s not easy to admit when you’re wrong or fail at something (the basis for this blog post), but it can set you on the right path.
So I’m committing to continuing my own growth and education. Getting even more involved with the Black@VMware POD (Power of Difference groups) and engaging on the Black@VMware Allies Slack channel. They offer a ton of learning resources and events to help people in my position move towards better allyship. I’m also taking this time to impress upon my leadership team the importance of becoming better allies to under-represented communities and keeping them accountable for creating more inclusive and equitable processes and actions within their teams.
Here’s to having a better answer (and understanding) at the next Black@VMware POD speed networking event. Happy Black Heritage Month, everyone!